Making it happen: The Dance Mistress

DENISE IRVINE
Last updated 13:05 13/02/2013
Fiona Murdoch
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ
Fiona Murdoch enjoys teaching people Regency dances.

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A lot of talented people are pulling together for the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival - from the ground up. Denise Irvine meets five of them.

This is a third of five stories we will bring to you over the week to celebrate this year's Gardens Arts Festival.

Fiona Murdoch is director of Dance Folkus, an international folk and historical dance group bringing the genteel manners, mores and dance patterns of the 1800s to the festival for the second time, in the form of The Jane Austen Summer Assembly.

"Dance Folkus is a small recreational dance group and the Assembly at the festival gives more people a chance to participate, to experience the Regency era.

I am the dancing mistress for the Assembly. There is a lot of etiquette involved. It is prevalent in Jane Austen's novels and the movies that have been made in more recent times. Back in Jane Austen's day, dancing masters would have gone around all the great houses in England and taught the young ladies and men to dance.

We can't reproduce this faithfully. We walk through the basic dance patterns, and once they've got the basic form of progression, it works. We don't load too much on to people. We have a wonderful small ensemble that specialises in the music of this period.

Last year we had a programme of about 12 to 13 dances; they have names like Comical Fellow, The Hole in the Wall, Gathering Peascods, and A Trip to Highgate. We enjoyed punch, and a light supper, as they would have done in Regency times. We got about 70 people - it was sold out, it was a great success. It captures people's imaginations, and we had inquiries about group bookings. We want people to have fun, we like to see their smiling faces.

What I was so impressed with was the effort people went to: they were dressed in the style of the period. Women were beautifully frocked up and the men looked fantastic as well. It was magic. People like to dress up and this was a romantic era. Men can look handsome and dashing, women can look beautiful, and people adopt the attitude and persona that goes with it. The costumes take over.

Every man has an inner Mr Darcy and every girl has an inner Miss Elizabeth."

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The Summer Assembly is at the Pavilion, 7.30pm, February 28. A free workshop for Assembly ticket-holders takes place Sunday, February 24, 2pm, Victorian Garden Conservatory.

- Waikato

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